Convening and Operating an EOC Remotely

I typically refrain from writing about disasters in the midst of those disasters.  It’s very easy to be critical of things as they are happening, without an appreciation for the circumstances and information that decision-makers are in.  There are also often plenty of critics out there between the media, politicians, and social media.  There is one thing, however, that has jumped out at me in this Coronavirus/COVID19 incident that is so egregious that it absolutely needs to be addressed, and that is the traditional convening of face-to-face EOCs by many jurisdictions, agencies, and organizations.  Much of the messaging we have seen in this incident promotes social distancing, yet so many are not practicing this.

It’s one thing to have a handful of people physically in your EOC.  While I acknowledge there are absolutely advantages to operating an EOC face-to-face, by doing so in the event of a pandemic, we are endangering these critical staff, other co-workers, and their families.  At this point, I have serious concerns with the leadership of any agency or organization that is substantially staffing an EOC in-person in the midst of this incident.  I’m tremendously disappointed in this.  Is it hubris?  Ignorance?  I don’t know what the cause is, but I do know that it’s simply irresponsible to endanger people and your operations, and it’s pretty much against everything we work for.

A virtual EOC is the answer to this.  Hopefully you have a plan for implementing one, though we know that many do not. Web-based EOC management platforms, of which there are many (and of varying capability and quality) can support facilitation of this, but aren’t necessary.  Through use of other technology, most of it free or potentially already owned by your agency or organization, you can still accomplish the things you need to.  Preparation obviously plays off, but you can make this happen on the fly, if needed, but it will still take some work to set up. 

What’s needed?  In all likelihood, most people will be working from home.  As such, reliable internet and a computer are essential, as are a phone, even if you are planning on doing most of your audio (and even video) through your computer.  We have a lot of collaboration tools available to us.  Below are a few (non endorsed) collaboration apps that, depending on the app, cover a range of capability from document sharing and live collaboration, chat, voice, video, project management, and more.  Some are practically full service, while others specialize in one or a few features.  Many of them integrate with each other for even more benefits.  They do have varying security capability, so be sure to read up on that if security is a concern (it should be to at least some extent):

  • Microsoft Teams – broad capability (available free from Microsoft)
  • Crisis Communications (this is an add-on to Microsoft Teams, also currently free from Microsoft)
  • Skype/Skype for Business – voice and video, some document sharing (available free from Microsoft)
  • OneDrive/SharePoint – document sharing (pay for more storage)
  • OneNote – document collaboration (Microsoft)
  • Dropbox – document sharing (free for limited data storage, pay for more)
  • Google Drive/Docs/Calendar/Hangouts – broad capability (free for limited data storage, pay for more)
  • Slack – broad capability, especially with add on apps (free for smaller-scale use)
  • Discord – broad capability, especially with add on apps (free)
  • WebEx – voice and audio, some document sharing (basic is free, pay for more capability)
  • HipChat – broad capability (basic is free, there is a cost for additional capability)
  • Zoom – voice and video, some document sharing (basic is free, pay for additional capability)
  • Yammer – broad capability (free with Office 365, pay for additional capability)

Working remotely may not be as convenient as face-to-face interaction, but it’s certainly possible and better for the safety of your staff and your own operational continuity.  Through use of these tools, we can still conduct all the necessary activities in an EOC.  We can communicate with people as a group or one-on-one.  We can conduct collaborative meetings.  We can develop documents, share drafts, and even work collectively on the same document in real time.  We can view videos, take calls, write reports, manage information, and track resources. 

Aside from EOC operations, I’d suggest that organizations look to these or similar tools to support remote work for their staff where possible.  I have some recent tips on continuity here.  For those of you in government, I suggest looking into what needs to be done to conduct public meetings in a virtual environment as well, while still ensuring they are open and accessible to the public.  Tools like Skype, WebEx, or Zoom can help support this.  States have varying requirements for public meetings, so these of course should be examined before making any changes.  I’d also encourage courts, especially lower ones such as traffic court, to consider postponing their proceedings or looking to alternate means of conducting their proceedings that don’t require individuals to be there in person.  I obviously appreciate that these are complex matters with a lot of legality, and as such may not have ideal solutions in the near-term, but good solutions absolutely need to be considered for future implementation. 

The bottom line here is that social distancing applies to you, whether you like it or not.  Some professions, such as public health and hospitals, first responders, and others have no choice but to continue engaging face-to-face and hands-on with people.  They are provided with PPE and safety procedures to minimize their exposures while they continue providing these critical services.  In emergency management, however, we do not need to be face-to-face.  It’s an unnecessary risk to take and there is plenty of availability of technology tools to help us do what we need to do. 

What collaboration tools do you use to support remote/virtual operations? 

Be smart, be safe, be well. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Operational Readiness in Emergency Management

Back in 2017 I wrote a piece on defining operational readiness.  It’s a topic, which, after some recent discussion with a colleague, I think bears revisiting and expanding upon.  Specifically, how we apply it in emergency management, or not.  Readiness is really a final comprehensive perspective of preparedness.  That is, once you have reached a certain level of preparedness, you can be ready, but being prepared doesn’t necessarily make you ready.  Preparedness is generally perceived as an ongoing process, though a state of readiness is typically a snapshot in time.

It struck me that the military tends to have more of a focus on readiness, while emergency management has a focus on preparedness.  While you will find both concepts within the doctrine of emergency management and military, the actual applications are considerably skewed.  After my discussion, I began to wonder why there this difference exists and what we can learn from it.

Having worked a considerable amount with various National Guard elements, I’ve come to highly respect their processes and their endeavor for readiness.  Not that we don’t have similar rigor in emergency management, but the focus seems to be more on the processes of preparedness rather than a state of operational readiness.  Sometimes the differences are so subtle that I have to sit back and think them through, but they are certainly there, and they are meaningful.  Given the military’s focus on operational readiness, they serve as a good source of information, though it needs to be properly filtered for application to emergency management.

As I’ve applied more thought to this, I’ve assembled a refined definition of readiness as it applies to emergency management, that being:

[Readiness is the nexus of benchmark outcomes of preparedness matched with the needs of a specific kind and type of response. A state of operational readiness is achieved when all applicable preparedness benchmarks are met and the organization is willing and able to adequately leverage the resulting capabilities against a corresponding threat or hazard.]

I’ve put together a graphic I think reasonably represents this relationship below.  Readiness is represented by a cloud because, as I explore further in this writing, it is itself rather amorphic and complex.

Readiness

To explain the components of my definition…  Readiness comes from a culmination of outcomes from preparedness activities, but only when each of these outcomes achieves a specific benchmark state.  The achievement of benchmarked preparedness activities define a measure of capability.  These capabilities are associated with a specific threat(s) or hazard(s).  As such, that state of readiness is only applicable to a specific kind (threat or hazard) and type (size and complexity) incident.  To help illustrate my points, here are a couple of examples using field response scenarios:

We can assume that a volunteer fire department is prepared to handle a room and contents fire.  They should have all the elements needed to do so, and in fact, these elements have standards (benchmarks) defined by the NFPA and state fire marshals.  Does this mean they have achieved readiness?  Hopefully yes, but perhaps not.  Given the rather extensive crisis of low membership in volunteer fire departments, the department in question may not have adequate staff to respond to this fire if it occurs, for example, in the middle of a week day.  This gives them a measure of degraded, or even negligible readiness.

Similarly, if we take the same fire department, having accomplished the benchmarks of preparedness for response to a room and contents fire, and even given adequate staff to do so, they may not have a state of readiness to fully address a hazardous materials incident.  While many of the elements of preparedness apply to both types of incidents, there are some critical differences which they would have to overcome to establish a state of readiness for a different type of incident.  Likewise, we could revert back to the room and contents fire and make it bigger – say a fully involved structure fire. While the department might have operational readiness to address the room and contents fire, they may not have the operational readiness to address a structure fire.

I think it’s fair to say that we can be prepared for something without having operational readiness for it.  Years ago, when there was a planetary ‘near miss’ by a meteor, a news outlet contacted our state OEM PIO.  They asked if we had a plan for a meteor strike.  The PIO acknowledged that we didn’t have a plan specific to that, but we did have a comprehensive emergency management plan, through which, and supported by various functional annexes, we were prepared to respond to such an incident and its effects should it occur.  Was the PIO wrong?  Not at all.  Assuming the other elements of preparedness were reasonably in place (and they were), it would be fair to say we were generally ‘prepared for anything’.  Were we ready, however?  Absolutely not.  The operational readiness needs for such an extraordinary, high impact incident are near-impossible to achieve.

When we examine this, it’s important to identify that a state of readiness can wax and wane, based on our ability to apply the identified preparedness measures to the incident in question. Considering the first example of the fire department and the room and contents fire, the department has a state of operational readiness when, as included in the definition I gave, all the preparedness benchmarks are met and they are willing and able to adequately leverage the resulting capabilities against a corresponding threat or hazard.  Changes in capability and/or the willingness or ability to apply those capabilities will result in degradation of readiness.  Depending on the factor in question, it may fully disqualify their readiness, or it may decrease their readiness by some measure.

So why is readiness important?  Readiness is the green light.  If we accomplish a state of operational readiness, we increase our chances of success in addressing the threat or hazard in question.  If we haven’t achieved readiness, we still can obviously be successful, but that success may come at a greater cost, longer period of time, and/or increased error.

How do we achieve readiness?  The current approach we have in emergency management certainly isn’t enough.  While some efforts may culminate in operational readiness, there is, as a whole, a significant lack of focus on operational readiness.  This seems to largely be a cultural issue to overcome.  In general, we seem to have the attitude that preparedness equates to readiness, and that preparedness itself is an end state. Even though we intuitively, and doctrinally, know that preparedness is a cycle, we seem to take comfort in ‘completing’ certain tasks among the preparedness elements – planning, organizing, equipping, training, exercises, and improvement – and then assuming readiness.  Readiness itself is actually the end state, though it is a dynamic end state; one that we can easily lose and must constantly strive to maintain.  To accomplish and maintain operational readiness, it is imperative that we aggressively and rigorously pursue activity in each of the elements of preparedness.  We must also continually monitor our ability to execute the capabilities we are preparing.  That ability, ultimately, is our measure of readiness.

The scale and unit of measuring readiness is something I’m not exploring in depth here (it really warrants its own deliberate effort), but expect to revisit in the future.  I surmise that the factors may be different based upon the various capabilities, and types and kinds of threats/hazards we are trying to address.  We need to examine capability requirements at a granular (task) level to truly assess our current state of readiness and identify what we need to address to increase our readiness.  I also assume that there is a somewhat intangible factor to readiness, one that likely revolves around the human factor. Things like leadership, decision-making, confidence, and ability to improvise. The measure of readiness may also involve certain external factors, such as weather.  The measurement of readiness certainly is complex and involves numerous factors.

I do know that practice is a significant factor in operational readiness.  Earlier I mentioned my experience with the National Guard.  Much of that revolves around exercises, which is one of the best (though not the only) measures of readiness.  Operational military units seem to constantly exercise.  Sometimes small scale, sometimes large.  They exercise different aspects, different scenarios, and different approaches.  It’s the regular repetition that builds competence and confidence, along with identifying shortfalls within the capability such as planning gaps, equipment failures, and the need to anticipate and prepare for certain contingencies.  While we exercise a fair amount in emergency management, we still don’t exercise enough.  I see a lot of people in emergency management leadership develop a complacency and virtually declare that ‘close enough is enough’.  It’s absolutely not enough to exercise a plan or capability once a year, which is something we often see (and often at best).

Preparedness is not something we achieve, it’s something we do; but through it we strive to achieve and maintain readiness.

It’s interesting to note that at the level of federal doctrine, we have a National Preparedness Goal.  We need to recognize that preparedness isn’t the goal – Readiness is.  A possible starting point for change would be the assembly of a blue-ribbon panel, likely by FEMA, to explore this topic and provide recommendations on a unified way ahead for emergency management to recognize the need for operational readiness, including purposeful changes in doctrine and culture to emphasize this desired end state.  We need a solid definition, means of measurement, guidelines for implementation, and an identification of the barriers to success with recommendations on how to overcome them (yep, I already know money and staff are the big ones).

I hope I’ve given some food for thought in regard to readiness.  The simple act of writing this and the bit of associated reading and thinking I’ve done on the topic certainly has me thinking about things differently.  As always, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on operational readiness, what it means to you, and what we can do to achieve it.

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

 

 

 

An Updated Community Lifelines Toolkit and Relationships to Incident Management

Earlier this year, FEMA released guidance on the Community Lifelines.  I wrote a piece in the spring about integrating the concept into our preparedness and response activities.  Last month, FEMA issued updated guidance for Community Lifeline Implementation through Toolkit 2.0.  In this update, FEMA cites some lessons learned in actually applying the Lifeline concept in multiple exercises across the nation, as well as from feedback received by stakeholders. Based on these lessons learned and feedback, they have made some adjustments to their toolkit to reflect how they understand, prioritize, and communicate incident impacts; the structure and format for decision-making support products. And planning for these impacts and stabilization prior to and during incidents.  They have also made some changes based upon the updated National Response Framework.  The documents associated with the updated Community Lifelines all seem to reflect an inclusion in the efforts of the National Response Framework.  It’s great to see FEMA actually tying various efforts together and seeking to provide grounded guidance on application of concepts mentioned in doctrine-level documents.

The biggest addition to the Community Lifelines update is the inclusion of the FEMA Incident Stabilization Guide.  The ‘operational draft’ is intended to serve as a reference to FEMA staff and a resource to state, local, and tribal governments on how “FEMA approaches and conducts response operations”.  It’s a 77-page document the obviously leans heavily into the Community Lifelines as a standard for assessing the impacts to critical infrastructure and progress toward restoration, not only in response, but also into recovery operations.  It even reflects on bolstering Community Lifelines in resilience efforts, and ties in the THIRA and capability analysis efforts that states, UASIs, and other governments conduct.  I’m not sure the document is really a review of how FEMA conducts operations, as they say, but it does review the ideology of a portion of those operations.  Overall, there is some very useful information and references contained in the document, but this brings me to a couple of important thoughts:

  1. The utility of this document, as with the entire Community Lifelines concept, at the state and local level is only realized through integration of these concepts at the state and local levels.
  2. We finally have guidance on what ‘incident stabilization’ really entails.

To address the first item… In my first piece on Community Lifelines, I had already mentioned that if states or communities are interested in adopting the concept of Community Lifelines, that all starts with planning.  An important early step of planning is conducting assessments, and the most pertinent assessment relative to this initiative would be to identify and catalog the lifelines in your community.  From there the assessment furthers to examine their present condition, vulnerabilities, and align standards for determining their operational condition aligned with the Community Lifelines guidelines.  I would also suggest identifying resiliency efforts (hopefully these are already identified in your hazard mitigation plan) which can help prevent damages or limit impacts.  As part of your response and short-term recovery lexicon, procedures should be developed to outline how lifeline assessments will be performed, when, and by who, as well as where that information will be collected during an incident.

As for my second item, the concept of incident stabilization has an interesting intersection with a meeting I was invited to last week.  I was afforded the opportunity to provide input to an ICS curriculum update (not in the US – more on this at a later time), and as part of this we discussed the standard three incident priorities (Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, and Property Conservation).  We identified in our discussions that incident stabilization is incredibly broad and can ultimately mean different things to different communities, even though the fundamental premise of it is to prevent further impacts.  This Incident Stabilization Guide is focused exclusively on that topic.  In our endeavor to make ICS training better, more grounded, less conceptual, and more applicable; there is a great deal of foundational information that could be distilled from this new document for inclusion in ICS training to discuss HOW we actually accomplish incident stabilization instead of making a one-off mention of it.

Going a bit into my continued crusade against the current state of ICS training… I acknowledge that any inclusion of this subject matter in ICS training would still be generally brief, and really more of a framework, as implementation still needs to be grounded in community-level plans, but this document is a great resource.  This also underscores that “learning ICS” isn’t just about taking classes.  It’s about being a professional and studying up on how to be a more effective incident manager.  ICS is simply a tool we use to organize our response… ICS is NOT inclusive of incident management.  Not only are we teaching ICS poorly, we are barely teaching incident management.

While I’ve been away for a while working on some large client projects, I’m looking forward to ending the year with a bang, and getting in a few more posts.  It’s great that in my travels and interactions with colleagues, they regularly mention my articles, which often bring about some great discussion.  I’m always interested in hearing the thoughts of other professionals on these topics.

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

EOC Management Organization

FEMA recently released a draft Operational Period Shift Brief Template for EOCs, open to public comment.  The document is fine, though there was one glaring issue… it assumes an ICS-based model is in use in the EOC.

With the release of the NIMS refresh, we were given some ‘official’ options for EOC management structures.  Unfortunately, we aren’t seeing much material that supports anything other than an ICS-based structure.  An ICS-based structure may certainly be fine, but every organization should examine their own needs to identify what works best for them.  Story time…

We recently completed a contract that included the development of a plan for a departmental operations center for a state agency.  The plan had to accommodate several considerations, including interaction with regional offices and operations, interaction with the State EOC, and integration of a call center.  When we talked to people, examined form and function, and looked at fundamental needs, the end result was an ICS-based organization.  While accommodations had to be made for translating their own agency structure and mission, it fit rather well.

For a contract we are currently working on, we are developing an EOC plan for a private utility.  Again, we reviewed documents, talked to people, and identified the fundamental needs of the company and the EOC organization.  The end result is shaking out to be something a little different.  At a glance, it’s largely ICS-based, but has some aspects of the Incident Support Model, while also having its own unique twists.  One particular observation was that their company’s daily structure has functions combined that we would normally break up in traditional ICS.  Breaking these functions up for an incident would be awkward, disruptive, and frankly, rather absurd.  Not only would personnel be dealing with something out of the ordinary, they would be changing the flow of corporate elements that have been placed together by necessity in their daily operations, which would detract from their efficiency during the incident.

My third example is a contract we are just getting started on.  This project involves developing an EOC plan for a municipality.  While we’ve had some initial discussions, we aren’t sure what the end result will be just yet.  The client isn’t set on any particular structure and is open to the process of discovery that we will be embarking on.  As I’ve thought about their circumstances and the recent and current work we’ve done on this topic, there are a few things that have come to mind.

  1. While NIMS is all about standardization and interoperability, the range of utility of emergency operations centers, in any form, and the mission, organization, an innate bureaucracy of the ‘home agency’ have a heavy influence on what the EOC’s organization will look like.
  2. While there still should be some standard elements to an EOC’s organization, there is generally less fluidity to the composition of an EOC, especially as it compares to a field-level incident command where the composition of the responding cadre of organizations can radically differ.
  3. Consider the doctrinal core concepts of ICS as really core concepts of incident management, thus we can apply them to any structure. These concepts are fundamental and should exist regardless of the organization used.  Some examples…
    1. Unity of Command
    2. Modular organization
    3. Manageable span of control
    4. Consolidated action plans
    5. Comprehensive resource management
  4. We need to acknowledge that the full benefit of organization standardization, exhibited by the ability of incident management personnel to be assigned to a new EOC and be able to immediately function, is potentially compromised to an extent, but that can be largely mitigated by adherence to the core concepts of ICS as mentioned previous. Why?  Because the system and processes of incident management are still largely the same.  These new personnel need just a bit of an orientation to the organizational structure being used (particularly if they are to be assigned in a leadership capacity at any level).

The most important consideration is to develop a plan.  That will provide extensive benefit, especially when done properly.  Follow the CPG 101 guidance, build a team, do some research, and weigh all options.  The end goal is to identify an organizational structure that will work for you, not one that you need to be forced into.  Bringing this around full circle, we need to know that with whatever system you decide to use, expect that you will need to develop your own training, job aids, and other support mechanisms since they largely don’t exist for anything outside of an ICS-based structure.  Note that even for an ICS-based model, there are needs… consider that there is no ‘official’ planning P for EOCs (one that is less tactics-focused), and, of course, that ICS training alone isn’t enough to run your EOC by.

I don’t place any blame for this need… consider that FEMA, with finite resources just like the rest of us, tries to produce things that are of the greatest utility to as much of the nation as possible, and right now, most EOCs are run on an ICS-based model.  While I hope this will expand over time, every entity will still be responsible for developing their own training on how they will organize and respond.  No training developed by a third party for a mass audience can ever replace the value of training designed specifically to address your plans.

I’m interested in hearing what changes are being made to your EOC organizations and how you are addressing needs.

© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Teaching ICS – We’re not there yet

Over the past week I’ve been neck deep in the updated ICS-300 and ICS-400 curriculum as I prepare to deliver these courses for a client.  While these courses, especially the ICS-300, have made some significant improvements from past versions, I’ve found what I perceive to be another challenge, perhaps a gap, in our collective approach to teaching incident management.

While ICS training should obviously focus on ICS, it seems we are missing an opportunity to provide some critical knowledge on emergency management (at least the response functions of EM) and incident management as an overall concept, especially when we get to the level of ICS-300.  I’m betting that most people taking the ICS-300 class know very little about emergency management and even less about the overall concepts of incident management.  While the ICS-300 is a good and worthwhile course for a great many supervisors within the ranks of public safety, it seems the requirement for ICS training puts a lot of this out of context.

While this might be fine for the ‘typical’ tactician, or even most unit leaders operating within an ICS organization, knowledge of what emergency management is and does, as well as the underlying concepts of incident management, will improve the ability of the response organization as a whole to function.  I echo this same sentiment for the EOC courses that have been developed.

While we strive to have the growth of many public safety professionals to include ICS position-specific training, we also have to be realistic in recognizing that most jurisdictions simply don’t have the capacity to make this happen.  Instead, they rely on a more ad-hoc incident management approach, which will generally serve them well.  Of course, the most challenging time is transitioning from the more ‘routine’ type 5 and 4 incidents into the larger extended response operations of a type 3 incident.  This is when people need to think beyond the normal approach of a largely tactics-focused response, to a system which still necessarily includes tactics, but builds a response organization meant to support and sustain those tactical operations.  What they learn from the ICS-300 may be the most amount of training they have outside of tactical applications.

In such an ad-hoc system, someone put into Logistics, or even more specifically the Supply Unit Leader, may be left wondering how to obtain resources when the answer to that question has always been dispatch.  It may not readily dawn on them to open the phone book (digitally or physically) or to contact the emergency management office to find the resources they need.  It seems silly, but in the context of incident management, dispatch may be all they know.  Similarly, someone assigned as the Situation Unit Leader may be re-creating the wheel when it comes to identifying what information is needed, where to get it from, what analysis needs to take place, and how to tie it all together.  Why?  Because they may not have been made aware of the greater system they function within. Their mental default is the job they usually do for the agency or department they work for.

On a whim, I did some key word searches within the new ICS-300 course student manual.  The term ‘incident management’ comes up with a few hits, mostly centered around NIMS-oriented content or included in the broader term of ‘incident management team’.  Very little explanation is really given on what incident management is.  Rather, the term is just put out there, seemingly with the expectation that the student knows what it is.   A search for the term ‘emergency management’ only comes up with two hits, one being part of ‘Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)’ (note: no context is given for what this is), and the other use is a rather throwaway use when discussing demobilization.  Emergency management as a function is actually never discussed.

The Reader’s Digest version of all this is that we aren’t including critical contextual information about the systems ICS functions within when we teach more advanced ICS courses.  This inadvertently can close people’s minds to opportunities to improve incident management by extending their thinking beyond tactics and beyond the scope of their home agency.  A podiatrist must still learn about the systems of the whole body before they focus on the foot.  Teaching people, especially at the threshold of ICS-300, about the system of emergency management and the concepts of incident management are critical before we start teaching them the specifics of a particular tool.  Doing so will make their understanding and use of this tool far more effective.

Some may wonder if I will ever be happy with how we teach ICS (really, incident management as a whole).  That day may yet come, but to get there I think we first need to reassess the actual learning needs of practitioners, and do so with fresh eyes instead of trying to mark up the same materials.  I know over the years of my criticisms of ICS training I’ve stimulated a lot of discussion, not only nationally, but internationally.  Many have been hugely supportive of the ideas I’ve put forward, and some have contributed to the dialogue.  Of course, there are some who have been resistant and defensive.  I’m thankful to those who have been receptive and I’m happy to have contributed to the energy behind changes that have been made, and will continue to do so until we, as a collective, are satisfied that the best possible training is being made available.  Change is often times progressive and incremental. It doesn’t happen overnight.

As usual, I’m happy to receive any comments and feedback you might have on these ideas.  Please spread the word and encourage feedback from those who might not be aware.  Emergency management is an ever-evolving practice.  Though we may not have answers, we must continue asking questions.

©2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

 

10 Strategies for Improving Emergency Management

I recently listened to an interview with author and professor Sean McFate.  In the interview he discusses the changing landscape of warfare and what the US must do to keep up, particularly since we are still largely stuck in a mindset of conventional warfare.  For those interested in this very insightful interview, it was on The Security Studies Podcast.

Obviously, a great deal has changed over the decades in warfare, but many philosophies and perspectives have remained the same.  As I listened to the interview, I found McFate’s words to ring true for emergency management as well.  We have had some changes in focus from civil defense, to natural hazards, to terrorism, and now toward what seems to be the most comprehensive all-hazards perspective we’ve ever had.  We’ve also had changes in technology and methodologies, but we still seem stuck in a lot of old ways of thinking.  Emergency management isn’t linear.  In fact the lines are blurred so much that it’s hardly cyclical (another old way of thinking).

McFate espoused that high-level warfare strategies should span administrations and leadership changes.  They should be durable and adaptable.  In the interview he discussed 10 new rule of war, which were summarized from his new book.  As such, I offer 10 strategies for improving emergency management.  You will see that most of these items aren’t radical.  The fundamentals of what we do in emergency management must certainly persist, but some perspectives do need to change.  Here’s what I have to offer:

  1. More incentivization for data-driven hazard mitigation and resilience

There are a few items to unpack in this one.  First of all, fully bringing the concept of resilience on board and marrying it up hazard mitigation.  Where there is some overlap in the two, there are also distinct differences.  Ultimately, however, the ideal end state for the two is the same: eliminate or significantly reduce hazards and impacts from those hazards.  The more we start discussing hazard mitigation and resilience together, the more we will see the linkages between the two.  Hazard mitigation funding, likewise, needs to be broadened to incorporate concepts of resilience.

Another key item here is making these projects data-driven.  Let’s do a better job of quantifying risk in relatable terms.  Risk needs to include not only immediate potential impacts, but also cascading effects.  Once we have that impact data, then root cause analysis is important.  Some of this is regulation, some engineering, some human behavior.  Also keep in mind that this needs to truly be all-hazards.

Lastly, incentivization.  Incentivization isn’t just funding, and gold stickers are not tangible incentives.  Make it meaningful.  Also make these incentives more immediate.  It’s great that mitigation measures can result in a locality paying a lower percentage in the event of a future public assistance declaration, but that could happen years from now, or it might not.  That’s still good to include, but let’s be real – tax payers and law makers don’t just want to dream about the reward, they want to enjoy it now.

  1. Ground preparedness in reality

I’ve seen a lot of preparedness activities (planning, organizing, equipping, training, and exercises) based on someone’s “good ideas” instead of actual data and needs.  It’s no coincidence that I just mentioned data in the previous point.  How many jurisdictions actually use all that data from their hazard mitigation plan, generally synthesized at significant expense, for other emergency management needs?  It’s quite a rare occasion.  Why?  Most practitioners view hazard mitigation to be a totally different animal.  It’s not sexy response stuff, so they don’t see a need to pay attention to it.  Instead, they fully dismiss what was done for hazard mitigation planning and do their own hazard analysis.  It seems to be a no-brainer that we should do better at developing one system to meet both needs.

Needs assessments take time and that has a cost, but leadership should be making informed decisions about what preparedness needs exist.  Absent conducting a needs assessment, the wrong decisions can easily be made, which results in a waste of time and money.  Most every emergency management agency has a story of time and money wasted on knee-jerk reactions.

Needs assessments should be applied to every aspects of preparedness.  In planning, we want to minimize assumptions and maximize data.  If an incident of the type you are looking at has never happened in your jurisdiction, make comparisons other similar jurisdictions.  Training programs should be based on identified needs, and individual courses should be developed based upon identified needs.  Probably a good opportunity for me to mention that ICS Training Sucks (but a realistic training needs assessment would fix it).  Similarly, the objectives we identify for exercises should be grounded in recognizing what capabilities and plans we need to validate.

Observation: When we look at the 32 Core Capabilities from the National Preparedness Goal, Threat and Hazard Identification is a Core Capability sitting in the Mitigation mission area.  If threat and hazard identification is so fundamental to what we do across all of emergency management, why isn’t it a common capability along with Planning, Operational Coordination, and Public Information and Warning?  Perhaps that needs to change?

  1. Boost regional efforts and coalitions

It’s interesting that everyone talks about how emergency management is a collaborative effort, yet in practice so many are resistant, reluctant, or negligent in working collaboratively.  Sure, it’s often easier to write a plan yourself, but the end result likely isn’t as good as it would be from a group effort.  In healthcare preparedness (yep, that’s a part of emergency management, too), they have been using regional healthcare coalitions.  These coalitions cover all aspects of healthcare, from hospitals, to clinics, to private practices, nursing homes, and EMS, along with health departments.

There is certainly precedent in emergency management to work collaboratively.  There are required collaborations, such as Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), as well as those emphasized in practice, such as in plan development.  LEPCs are great, and often under-utilized in a lot of areas.  In some areas, especially those with heavy industry, they are large and busy, and can’t really take on any more than they already do, but in other areas they have much less to do and could certainly work with a dual purpose as a standing emergency management coordination or advisement entity.  Regardless of how it’s done, build a local or regional EM coalition.  The relationships and perspectives, if properly organized and tasked, will reap some great benefits.  Don’t forget to make them regional, if that makes sense for you.  Disasters don’t give a damn about the funny lines we draw on maps.  And don’t just make these groups about meetings… actually engage them in meaningful preparedness activities and other aspects of emergency management.

  1. Embrace scholar-practitioners

One of the items McFate mentioned in his interview was embracing scholar-practitioners. Now I’m not the kind of person to espouse that a practitioner is any better than a scholar, or vice versa.  They each have an important role, especially in a profession like emergency management, where there is a lot of theory (more than most people realize) and a lot of application.  That said, we don’t have to pick a side.  You can be whoever you want, in fact you can even do both.  Does being a practitioner mean that you have to be a full-time emergency manager? Nope.  Being a scholar doesn’t necessarily mean you must be a professor or a student pursuing an advanced degree, either.  I would absolutely argue that regularly reading some research papers or a book on related topics, or even this blog, makes you a scholar.  If you have interest beyond just direct application, and like to think or discuss broader ideas in emergency management, that makes you a scholar.

I think it is scholar-practitioners that have that capacity to advance our profession more than others.  Not only is this group doing, but they are thinking about how to do it better.  If they come up with an idea of how to do it better, they have the greatest chance of actually giving their idea a try.  They are also the ones most prone to share their lessons learned, both successes and otherwise.

  1. Understand emergency management as a social science

Speaking of theory, we need to recognize emergency management for what it is.  While specific applications of emergency management may be within niche areas of practice and academic disciplines, most of emergency management is really a social science.  Social science is fundamentally about the relationships of people.  That is what we do in emergency management.  There are aspects of social science that may apply more than others, such as sociology or public health, but we also need to embrace political science.

In application, emergency managers need to become more astute in politics.  Not the partisan running for office type of politics, but politics as an aspect of governance, policy, and relationship building.  As an emergency manager, it’s your job to understand what every agency and department does in your jurisdiction, and how they fit into the function of emergency management.  Yes, you can espouse the benefits of emergency management and business continuity to them, but how do they fit into emergency management?  Some connections are easy to make, especially the public safety ones or extensions of that such as transportation, public works, and public health.  But many are quick to dismiss administrative, support, and social welfare agencies.  The better you understand them and are able to champion their involvement in emergency management, the stronger coalition you will build.

  1. Mindset: always in the disaster space

I mentioned in the introduction that the lines between the phases of emergency management are blurred.  We used to teach (and some still do) of distinct phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.  Sure it’s easier to teach about these when we put them in their own box, but that gives the impression to many that we only do one at a time.  The reality is that most jurisdictions are certainly doing mitigation, preparedness, and recovery right now – and maybe even some element of response.

The main point here is that we need to change mindsets of people.  I’ve had plenty of people ask me what emergency managers do when there isn’t an active disaster.  I certainly have no problem satisfying this common curiosity, but the simple fact that they ask means that we aren’t promoting enough of what we do.  We need put ourselves and others in the mindset that are always operating in the disaster space.  It doesn’t need to mean that there is always a disaster response we are involved in, but we need to be very clear that we are active every single day in disaster-related work.

I’ll take this one step further, and that’s to suggest that the primary function of every government agency is emergency management.  Consider that we have roads not only for ease of everyone’s transportation, but so that we can more quickly and efficient respond to save lives and property.  Our public works departments provide potable water and sewage systems for public health purposes, which is part of the greater emergency management family.  I could give examples for every government agency.  The administrative departments support those agencies and the implementation of their missions.

It’s also worth mentioning here that since several of these agencies have involvement in our infrastructure that we need to seriously step up our investments in infrastructure, which not only make it better and more effective and efficient, but also more resilient (tying back to my first point)

  1. Step away from tactics

Far too many emergency managers still focus on tactics.  In defense of that, it’s easy to do, especially if you come from a public safety background.  I still think it’s important to understand tactics.  That said, an effective emergency manager needs to think less about implementation and more about strategy and relationships. There are plenty of tacticians out there.  One more isn’t needed.  What is needed is someone who can step back and see the forest for the trees, as they say.

  1. Private citizens won’t prepare, but volunteers can be engaged

We need to let citizen preparedness go.  I’m not saying we should give up on our message of individual and family preparedness, because it can make a difference, but we need to recognize that most citizens simply won’t do it.  This is a concept that has largely evolved out of society.  In the days of civil defense we were engaging a different generation of people.  We also presented them with a credible and scary threat that was being put in their face all the time.  Now is not that time.  Sure, there are models of citizen preparedness that still work to extraordinary lengths, such as in Cuba, but government oppression and a cold war mentality contribute significantly to that.  Our society has evolved to an extent of individuals not having the time, wherewithal, or interest in preparing themselves.  Sure there are exceptions to every rule, but largely, society has an expectation of being provided for by the government.

Citizen engagement, on the other hand, is still a great reserve that we can spend more effort tapping.  Trained, organized volunteers can accomplish an incredible extent of activity.  Volunteer management is no easy task, though.  Programs need to be developed and promoted, volunteers recruited and trained, and organizations sustained.  Volunteers must be given purpose and don’t forget about the critical link with government… how will this happen.  Religious institutions, corporate and union volunteer groups, and entities such as CERT are all great.  We just need to do a better job at incentivizing, managing, and engaging.

  1. Plan better for recovery

Ah, recovery.  Everyone talks about how we need to do it better, but too few resources are applied to making that happen.  Remember that preparedness starts with a needs assessment and planning.  We can identify estimates of disaster impacts from which we then extrapolate reasonable benchmarks of performance within the core capabilities of recovery.  The problem is that most recovery plans are written at too high a level and generally not followed through on.  Why? Maybe because the emphasis is always on the life safety aspect of response plans.  Certainly that’s important (and we can still do so much better with our response plans), but most recovery oriented plans fall incredibly short.  It seems that most governments that even bother to write recovery plans only do so to the extent of the plan being a framework.  They identify what the goals are, what agencies are involved, and provide some high-level objectives.  Typically no strategy is provided and the management of the recovery function is rarely mentioned, despite such a focus that we have on incident management.

I just recently had a discussion with a client about recovery exercises.  They were approached about the need to conduct more of them.  Smartly, they responded by putting the focus back on the requester by asking if the recovery plans were ready to be exercised.  Once the requestor took a moment to consider, their answer was no.  Remember that (in most cases) exercises validate plans.  We can conduct an exercise in the absence of a plan, but generally that only confirms the lack of a plan.  Plans establish the standards of performance that we use in exercises and in real life.

  1. Use technology to the greatest extent, but prepare for austerity

Ah, technology.  It’s a wonderful thing, until it doesn’t work.  I’m a big fan of the efficiencies that technology provide, especially when technology is developed to solve a specific problem, not to create new ones.  Processes should dictate technology needs, not the other way around.

Technology is mostly a data tool.  It helps us to communicate more quickly and efficiently; access, organize, and transmit data; visualize data; and collect data.  More specifically, we use technology platforms such as EOC management systems and GIS.  These have allowed us to make significant strides in what we do and how we do it.  I’ve used dashboards, databases, maps, 3D models, simulators, and more to do my job.

I’ve seen some emergency managers simply not embrace technology.  And I mean at all.  Not even a computer.  I understand how they are able to function, and though they may have brilliant minds for emergency management, they are simply not able to do much without an assistant to research, type, print, and even communicate for them.  While I’m seeing this less and less, there are still some of these folks out there, and it’s not just older generations, either.

There are many who have a reasonable literacy of technology, but still aren’t embracing inexpensive or even free resources that would make them more effective.  This is even more important for the majority of emergency managers, who are typically one-person offices with few resources.   Maybe listing some of these resources will occur in a future post of mine.

Despite the wonders of technology, I often advocate procedures for going dark (i.e. when your technology fails).  After all, we are emergency managers, are we not?  Every EOC that uses a technology tool to manage functions within their EOC should absolutely have a low tech back up, procedures and training in how to implement it, and an annual exercise to test those procedures and keep people in practice.  Carbon paper and gas station maps are your friends.

~~

Well there they are: 10 strategies for improving emergency management.  As I stated in the introduction, there really isn’t anything revolutionary here, although some concepts might be a bit controversial, which I am happy to embrace.  Perhaps I missed an important point or have a poor perspective on something.  I absolutely welcome your comments and feedback, as always.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC℠®

 

10 Considerations for Your EOC

Many jurisdictions, agencies, and organizations have emergency operations centers (EOCs) identified in their emergency plans to support incident response and recovery operations.  Through my career, I’ve seen all manner of EOCs, used to support entire incidents or just specific missions, ranging in size from just a handful of people to well over 100 people, various organizational models, and even varying degrees of successful implementation.  I’ve also seen many different locations for EOCs.

An EOC can be established anywhere, but just like any broad statement, there are a number of caveats to that.  Here are 10 things to consider in identifying a location for your EOC:

  1. Out of harm’s way

While it’s difficult to determine where an incident will strike, most jurisdictions have areas that may be less susceptible than others.  While it’s certainly convenient to have your EOC off a major highway, consider that a significant accident on that highway will impact access to your facility.  Locating your EOC near an industrial district or in a flood plain is just asking for trouble.  Be smart about where you locate your EOC relative to your geographic risk profile.

  1. Plenty of parking and accessibility

Few things are more frustrating than arriving to an EOC and not having a place to park.  That’s simply a silly problem to have and reflects greatly on shortsightedness.  If you are stuck in a certain location, plan for an overflow lot, signage, and a shuttle.  Also make sure your building is accessible.  I’ve seen far too many EOCs located either in basements or upper floors without any elevators or other ability for access for people with disabilities.

  1. Utility services and communications with redundancies

It practically goes without saying in our current age of technology, but we need to ensure full utility service in our EOCs.  This includes the basics like electricity, HVAC, and water, but also internet, terrestrial telephone, cellular service, television service (either cable or satellite), and radio communications.  The best facilities will have redundancies in these services to the greatest extent possible.  Generators (with fuel) are rather essential.  Engage your IT staff to ensure maximum flexibility and connectivity with wifi and wireless printing, while still maintaining secure networks.  Each work space should also be able to easily access outlets without running an excess of extension cords (but always have some on hand!).

  1. Meal and break rooms

Constant engagement fuels stress and exhaustion which leads to degradation of our ability to perform.  While work in an EOC may not be so physically strenuous, it can be mentally draining and having respite locations are important.  Both for respite and the sake of keeping work spaces clean, you want to have a separate dining area that can accommodate seating for everyone (at least in shifts), a place to wash hands, refrigeration of food and beverages, potable water and coffee/tea, and space for prepared food to be delivered and maintained within safe temperatures.

  1. Seating and tables

It seems odd to have to say this, but adequate seating is quite important.  I’ve been in EOCs that simply didn’t have it.  While I appreciate the ability of a jurisdiction to set up an ad-hoc EOC, a single six foot table and a few folding chairs aren’t likely to meet your needs.  If you don’t have a dedicated EOC (not everyone needs one!), meeting and conference rooms may have plenty of seating, though if they are too small, you will be extremely limited.  Thankfully folding tables and chairs are reasonably inexpensive and easy to store.  Consider the functional spaces you need to accommodate your EOC’s organization, be it ICS-based, Incident Support Model-based, or Emergency Support Function-based.  Functional groups should have their own work spaces and the arrangement and workspaces they need to accommodate and facilitate their functions.  Always plan for more people than you expect!

  1. Away from distractions

Your EOC shouldn’t be in a space that other wise will receive a lot of foot traffic.  While co-location of facilities can seem like a great idea before an incident, having your EOC in the same building as a shelter or your fire department is probably a bad idea.  It’s not only distracting, but also infringes on utility and communication usage, and even security.

  1. Security

Speaking of security, ensure that access to your EOC is limited only to those who should be there.  Generally, personnel not working in or serving the EOC should not have access to it.  It’s a pain to have civilians, the media, or other random persons wandering into an EOC, especially when they want immediate answers to complicated questions or feel their needs should be addressed first.  Along with ensuring access controls, security procedures should be in place, including a staffed reception desk and sign-in.  Personally, I also prefer armed security (law enforcement) for most EOCs.

  1. Meeting and briefing space

Meetings and briefings are a necessity in incident management.  It’s a way in which we share information, work through problems, and make decisions.  Of course there is always the danger of personnel getting stuck in a perpetual meeting, but that’s a topic for another blog post.  Ideally, your EOC should have adequate breakout space for these meetings and briefings.  An open space with a podium may be necessary for media briefings, and meeting rooms with conference call and video conference capabilities may also be required.  Having a separate space allows a meeting to take place without distraction from the general EOC activity while also being able to discuss sensitive information.

  1. Display space

One of the hottest commodities in an EOC is display space.  Space to project with an LCD projector, hang chart paper or maps, and write on with a dry-erase marker is pretty essential to helping ensure that people are informed and information is tracked.  Higher-tech EOCs may elect to have flat screen monitors mounted on the wall, as well.  Easel stands and portable white boards can augment this and make your space more flexible as well.

  1. A good backup site

One of the best tips I can provide about having a great space for an EOC is to have two!  You will be thankful you have that second space identified and planned for in a continuity situation.  If you don’t need it, it can always be used for something else, but if you do need and don’t have it, you will be scrambling to find a location, get your personnel there, and ensure you have supplies, equipment, and other needs addressed.

 

There are certainly a number of other considerations for EOCs, but paying heed to these ten will get you far.  Your EOC doesn’t need to be a dedicated facility.  It can be any reasonably flexible open space, such as town hall, a large meeting space, a training facility, a hotel conference space, or even a warehouse – your needs should determine your space.  Once you have identified your space, make it functional and ensure that you have an EOC plan and procedures. Train staff, develop job aids to support their tasks, and exercise your plans regularly!

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

We Only Need One ICS

I came across an article yesterday posted on EMS1/AMU’s blog about EMS adopting an incident command system.  It’s an article that leaves me with a lot of questions.

I want to examine some individual statements within the article.

  1. “Many EMS providers lack training and awareness about implementing an incident command structure.”

 

This is 100% true, but I’ll also expand this statement across much of public safety and emergency management.  Aside from well-experienced practitioners of ICS, which there are relatively few compared to the greater public safety/EM community, most simply aren’t equipped to implement a significant incident management system.  The biggest reason is that ICS training sucks.

 

  1. “EMS organizations have only recently recognized the value and need for such a command structure as part of their response strategy.”

 

I would suggest that this is partly true, but in many parts of the nation, requirements and standards have been established by way of executive order, state and regional EMS protocols, and other means for EMS to use ICS.  Many of these have been in place since the 90s, before HSPD-5 and NIMS requirements, but certainly with the emergence of NIMS in 2003, this has largely been a standard of practice for EMS, if not a requirement in many places (and under specific circumstances, such as required through OSHA 1910.120).  While I understand that ‘standards’ and ‘requirements’ don’t necessary define value, they essentially dictate a need.

 

  1. There was a recognition that “EMS providers were having difficulty applying fireground incident command practices to EMS calls.”

 

While I agree with what I think is the spirit and intent of this statement and bring this back to my comments on item 1 above, I’m still cringing at the ‘fireground incident command’ phrase in this statement.  ICS isn’t just for the fireground. While it may have been born in wildfires, that was decades ago.  We are now officially in 2019 and should be well past this concept that ICS is only for the fireground.  Even if we disregard, for the sake of discussion, the requirements for all responders to use ICS, such as those in OSHA 1910.120, which predate NIMS, HSPD-5 was signed almost 17 years ago!  Nothing in HSPD-5 or the original NIMS document elude to the current implementations of ICS being a fireground system.  It was to be applied to all responders.

 

  1. “During a response, providers did not establish a formal command structure”

 

Totally true.  This applies, however, not just to EMS, but to most of public safety.  See my comment for item 1.

 

  1. “In 2012… they began to research various fire and EMS command models that were scalable and practical for all types of critical EMS calls.”

 

I’m not sure why there is a need to look past NIMS ICS.  Perhaps we are stepping back to my comment on item 1 again, but if you understand the system, you can make it work for you.

~

It is absolutely not my intent to throw negativity on the author or the people who spearheaded the implementation of an EMS-specific ICS as cited in this article.  They clearly identified what they perceived to be a need and tried to address it.  I give them credit for that.  It should be seen, though, that they identified many of the same needs that ICS was developed to address in the first place.  They then created a system (which has many of the same qualities of ICS) that is focused on EMS needs during an incident.  The issue here is bigger than this article, and certainly more endemic.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t really provide much detail on their ‘provider in command’ model, but what they describe can all be accomplished through NIMS ICS if properly utilized.  They even identify objectives of their model, which are really just pre-identified incident objectives.  They certainly don’t require a different model.  I think, however, what they largely accomplished was an audience-specific training program to show how elements of ICS can be implemented.  I just don’t think they needed to change the model, which is what the article seems to indicate.

Sadly, trying to make customized adaptations of ICS is nothing new.  For years, some elements of the fire service have dug in with certain models which are fire-ground centric.  Other disciplines have dome similar things.  It’s worth mentioning that FEMA had developed a number of discipline-specific ICS courses, such as ICS for Public Works or ICS for Healthcare.  While the intent of these courses is to provide context and examples which are discipline-specific (which is a good practice) rather than new models specific to these disciplines, I think that has inadvertently given some the impression that there are different systems for different disciplines.  ICS is ICS.

Once again, I put the blame on poor training curriculum.  When a system is developed and proven to work under a wide variety of circumstances and for a wide variety of users, yet users keep feeling a need to develop adaptations for themselves, this is not a failure of the system or even the users, it’s a failure of the training.

There are facets of public safety and emergency management that are generally not using ICS as well or as often as they should.  EMS is one of them.  As an active EMT for over a decade (including time as a chief officer), I can attest that (in general) ICS training for EMTs is abysmal.  The text books tend to skim over the pillars of ICS and focus on the operational functions of triage, treatment, and transport.  While these are important (for a mass casualty incident… not really for anything else), they fail not only in adequately TEACHING the fundamental principles of ICS (which can and should be used on a regular basis), but they fall well short of actually conveying how to IMPLEMENT ICS.  Further, much of the training provided includes a concept of ‘EMS Command’, which is opposed to what is in ICS doctrine.  We shouldn’t be encouraging separate commands and ICS structures at the tactical level of the same incident.

A few years ago I had started a crusade of sorts to get a better ICS curriculum developed.  There was a lot of support for this concept across the public safety and EM community, not only in the US but other nations as well.  Perhaps with the coming of the new year that effort needs to be reinvigorated?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

EOC Training is Coming from FEMA

Last week I posted an article espousing the lack of emergency operations center (EOC) content in the most recently updated ICS-100 course.  In response to this article, I heard from someone at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) letting me know about two courses which are currently in development, focusing on EOCs.  The first is IS-2200: Basic EOC Functions.  This is being designed as a four-hour online course.  The second is E/L/G-2300: Intermediate EOC Functions.  This course is being designed for a three-day long classroom delivery.  These courses are both expected to release in the spring of 2019.

For those who aren’t familiar with FEMA’s course codes…

IS: Independent Study (web-based delivery)

E: In-resident course, typically delivered at EMI

L: A course delivered on-location by FEMA personnel anywhere around the nation

G: State-delivered courses

Personally, I’m thrilled to get definitive word that courses are being developed and that we have a timeframe for deployment.  I’m a big proponent of the roles EOCs can play in incident management, yet so much of the training conducted for EOC personnel for so many years has been ad-hoc at best.  Hopefully this will further move us toward standardization and common implementation of best practices.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Incident Management vs Incident Command

As I was writing my thoughts on the updated ICS-100 course in my previous post, I got to thinking that it may be prudent to reinforce the difference between incident management and the incident command system (ICS).  ICS is a specific application of incident management, while incident management is, in all, much broader than ICS.  Incident management includes field responses, emergency operations centers (EOCs), activities of secondary and tertiary organizations, funding streams, public information, and even the mechanics of politics focused on that disaster response.  Ideally, we would prefer these to all be orchestrated, such that they operate lock-step, but rarely, if ever, do we see such a thing.  It would be as if a chorus, band, orchestra, stage performers, ushers, concessioners, stage hands, lighting and sound operators, and custodial staff were all working on the same performance and conducted by one person.  They don’t.  It just doesn’t happen that way.  That’s why incident management systems, such as ICS, were developed.

Knowledge and application of systems, like ICS, are certainly important.  The beginning of every ICS class tells you why, so I don’t need to get into that here.  But to continue with my oft criticized analogies, if ICS is the trees, incident management is the forest.  And, as it turns out, many people can’t see the forest for the trees.  While ICS may be concerned with putting out the fire, stopping the bleeding, or catching the proverbial bad guy, incident management is about so much more.  Even doctrinally, consider that the National Incident Management System (NIMS), comprised of key elements, such as resource management, command and coordination (this is the ICS piece, and more), and communications and information management.  We also need to consider incident management beyond these, in as broad a scope as possible.

Incident management is a deliberate series of actions taken to solve problems associated with incidents and disasters.  There are a lot of problems that can be caused, directly or indirectly, by whatever issue we are dealing with, be it flood, fire, or hostile event.  Incident management needs to prioritize these problems and take action to address them.  While it may sound like our incident command system structures do the same type of thing, they are often concerned with immediate effects and actions that save lives and stabilize the incident, as they should be.  But that focus, necessarily, is narrow in scope and doesn’t address all the ancillary and important issues that an incident may cause.

Consider FEMA’s Emergency Support Function (ESF) structure and the matters they address.  Here are a few:

  • Transportation
  • Communications
  • Public Works and Engineering
  • Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services
  • Public Health and Medical Services
  • Agricultural and Natural Resources
  • Energy
  • External Affairs

Do your plans address these issues?  And by plans, I mean real, actionable plans.  Many jurisdictions have functional annexes to their plans, most following the federal ESF structure, which do little more than state what agencies participate in each of the jurisdiction’s ESFs and what their primary goals are.  Let’s be honest… these are aren’t plans.  They are fully inadequate to be plans.  These are prose I might use for the introduction of a plan, but certainly not the substance of the plan itself.  This is exactly why we are missing the mark when it comes to incident management.  We talk a lot about ICS, ICS is in our plans, we train people in ICS (though not as good as we should be), emphasize ICS in exercises, and focus on ICS when an incident occurs, but how much attention is given to broader incident management?  Typically far too little.  I’ve actually had conversations with local public safety officials, asking them how well they feel they are prepared for the next disaster, and they responded that they are fine because they are trained in ICS.  I’ve received this response in more than one jurisdiction.  That’s pretty scary, especially given the lackluster condition of their plans.

Can ICS be applied to broader incident management issues?  It sure can.  It’s simply a management system that can be applied to anything you want.  But the problem is that people conceptualize ICS as something to only use ‘in the field’ and during the more urgent initial period of response.

The take-away from this is that we need to identify what our issues are and how we are going to manage them.  These are essential parts of the planning process.  Write good plans.  Invest time, effort, and likely some money into it.  Do you need to use the ESF structure?  No, but certainly make sure that all concerns are addressed.  Think about the cascading impacts of an incident.  Leverage stakeholders from across the community to ensure that you are getting input from multiple perspectives and interests.  Doing so will help you be better prepared to manage the entirety of the incident.

As always, thoughts are appreciated.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC